Subtle sounds

Interview with John Osborn

Subtle sounds

07-06-2014 | 09.36

John Osborn might not have reached global super star level cake throwing antics just yet, but has surely proven to be a mainstay when it comes to the art of spinning records. John is what they call a DJ’s DJ, a personal favorite of many other artists. Whether it’s curating the TANSTAAFL label alongside Eric Cloutier, being a resident at Scuba’s SUB:STANCE Panorama Bar parties, hosting regular nights at Tresor; they have all played a part in his success. First and foremost however, being an absolute master when it comes to crafting mesmerizing after-hour vibes has put him on the map. 

John, can you name a few records you’re listening to right now?
"Whilst writing this, I’m listening to Sade, the Promise album and drinking some coffee… I love Sade in the morning to wake up to! But what’s on my turntables in clubs currently is a new EP by a Spanish producer DJ F, called 1974 on A Harmless Deed. The whole EP is tremendous, but the stand-out track for me is Primaver and Kyoto. I am also really enjoying a new track by Bicep that is featured on Will Saul's DJ Kicks mix CD. It really fuses house and break-beats together in a really heady dreamy way that I just love. Then there's this new thing from the Jaydes, a track called Tears & Fears – they have all these fancy big name remixes of the original track, but the original is killer and outshines all these remixes! Also the new label Breed is pretty interesting, especially the Shady P, Detroit Girls track."

You made the decision to move to Berlin in 1999, years before it became the hip thing to do. What motivated you?
"April 11th 1999 to be exact. I moved out of boredom of living in the London rat race. Curiosity of what Berlin would be like (I literally had no idea about the city then apart from ‘it had a wall’ and a ‘weird street party called Love Parade’, I was a perfect example of an ignorant Englishman back then!) and, classically, because of a woman – who actually I pretty much immediately split up with, she moved back to London, I stayed in Berlin and then met my wife who was at the time working behind the bar at WMF Club. The rest is history."

In our book you’re known for playing records, rather then producing them, implying you’re a real advocate of DJ-ing; taking people on an emotional journey through music. Would you say this is true and if so, what has motivated you to focus on playing out instead of producing?
"I started DJ-ing in the early ‘90s, got my turntables in ‘93 I think and I used to stand in front of a music shop on Tottenham court road and stare at these amazing boxes that made the music I loved so much. But I had just blew my entire student loan on my decks and that was the same price as a basic sampler back then. So financially I could not do both, I just could not afford the equipment – so I chose DJ-ing as it seemed way more fun and I instantly got the idea of creating new sounds from two records and carving your own narrative out over a set. DJ's were the guys that actually weaved the magic out in the nightclubs and initially put me under a spell. Also I fell in love with the DJ culture back then. I spent far to little time at college and a lot of time at Fat Cat Records spending at least 50 pounds a week on vinyl, all of which probably explains my very poor degree results!"

We understand you’re on the bill with some personal friends such as Jon Hester and Eric Cloutier. What do you imagine it’s like playing the same event as your friends?
"It’s going to be a lot of fun, and a lot of good music will be played… It means that if I am not behind the decks, I will be dancing my socks off on the floor!"

You’ve put out two solo EP’s and two collaborations so far, any releases planned for the future?
"Yes, my production skills are improving, but I am no master yet. I am having a lot of fun right now and I am able to, on some level, convert what’s in my head to actual sounds or tracks – this is a big leap forward for me. Release-wise I have two more collaborations coming out this year, another one with October for TANSTAAFL, another one with TALLMEN785 for a follow-up on Run Out Run and later at the end of this year or the next year a solo release on Hotflush. And of course there are still a whole stack of really amazing stuff to be released by other artists on the TANSTAAFL PLANETS imprint."

In our opinion you’re an after-hour specialist due to your extensive experience in the never-ending Panorama Bar, but mainly because you walk the fine line between house and techno. How did you end up with this rather unique sound?
"Good question. In a way you kind of already gave the answer away in your question. I have always been somebody who finds things the most interesting when diving in the spaces between ‘genres’. I have been collecting records and DJ-ing with these records for a very long time and eventually I guess I have found subtle sounds that appealed to me and I then slowly, instinctively homed in on these flavors to get to the sound I have today – the sound that lives in between house and techno."

Your sound is the exact reason we programmed you for a Sunday morning set, the magical hours between daybreak and afternoon. What are your thoughts on this?
"I am really pleased about this, just reading the words ‘magical hours between daybreak & afternoon’ puts a smile on my face. It's good for two reasons, firstly because I get to play what I love the most – even though I'm quite diverse and capable of playing a full-on peak time techno set, this is my favorite type of set to play: klunky, trippy beautiful house & techno. The second reason this pleases me, is because it tells me that the curator of the party actually cares about music and for who plays when and for what reason - not just sticking big names on a line-up to please the masses."

This will be your first time playing Trouw, and as far as we can see the first time in Amsterdam. Are you exited? 
"Very much so! I actually pulled out of a booking at a very large club in Berlin to make this possible – and that is a club in Berlin where people really do back out of! I knew that as Trouw is closing soon, this could be my only chance to play here. The last time I was even in Amsterdam, I was 16! So yeah I am mega über about-to-pop excited! Also it's our 10th wedding anniversary, so my wife and I are up for some celebration!"

Text: Daan Akse